In a truly free market economy,
labor relations should be
decided in voluntary negotiations between business and labor
interests. Many companies and their employees have endured
and prospered for generations without the need for third
party influence. On the other hand, some labor and business
interests have exhibited a long history of attempting to
gain control of the workplace through political influence.
The 1935 National Labor
Relations Act (NLRA) guaranteed employees the right to self
organize, and to select representatives of their own
choosing to bargain collectively with employers. The Act
applied to all employers engaged in interstate commerce
except for airlines, railroads, agriculture and government.
The Act allowed unions and employers to agree to a closed
shop wherein employees must be a member of the union as a
condition of employment. If the employee ceased to be a
union member for any reason he could be summarily fired even
if he had not violated an employer rule. The National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) was also created to settle labor
The NLRA was amended in 1947 to
outlaw the closed shop. Unions could no longer force
employers to fire employees for violating the rules of
organized labor. However, the amended Act continued to
provide that an employee in a union shop be required pay
union dues as a condition of employment. An employee that
did not wish to be a union member was still required to pay
the equivalent of union dues.
The Act also provided for
individual states to adopt “right to work” laws that
required the workplace to be an open shop. These laws
prohibit agreements between labor unions and employers that
require an employee to be a union member or to pay dues to
organized labor as a condition of employment.
In 1962 President John F.
Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988 that allowed the
federal workforce to organize into unions. His Order
resulted in the rapid rise of the unionized public workforce
in many states and cities including the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the
National Education Association (NEA).
The traditional process for
creating a union in the workplace is for labor leaders to
approach the company’s employees and attempt to convince
them that union collective bargaining can result in better
compensation, working conditions, and job security. A union
election can be forced if labor representatives are able to
convince at least 30 percent of the employees to sign their
intent to seek organized labor representation. The NLRB
process provides both union leaders and company
representatives ample time to campaign for their respective
positions before the election is held. A majority vote of
the employees in a confidential ballot election determines
whether the employees will be represented by a labor
organization. Any effort to change representation or to
dissolve the union is strictly regulated by NLRB processes.
It is readily apparent that the
struggle to achieve superiority in the workplace through
political influence has not diminished over the years.
The influence of organized
labor in the private sector has waned over the years. This
is mainly due to the high cost of union labor that makes
unionized companies less competitive in the marketplace. At
the same time, public employee unions have grown rapidly in
both numbers and power. This is largely due to their lack of
competition and their ability to influence legislation.
Twenty two (22) “right to work”
states have kept the influence of organized labor in check.
These states are consistently among the national leaders in
job creation, per capita income and economic growth. Their
favorable business environment has acted as a magnet for
capital investment and industrial growth.
Oregon has been a national
leader among the twenty eight (28) states that champion the
cause of union shops and organized labor. Our public
employees are among the most highly unionized in the nation.
Our state has consistently been a national leader in
unemployment and poverty with nearly 20 percent of the
workforce currently underemployed, and 20 percent of the
population using food stamps. It has remained in the bottom
third of per capita income and its economic growth is
stagnant at best.
The Oregon Legislative Assembly
adopted a law in 2007 that allows unionization without a
secret ballot election. The new process allows union
organizers to pick off one employee at a time until a
majority has signed its intent to seek representation. The
new law requires the Oregon Employment Relations Board to
certify a labor organization as the exclusive representative
of employees once that majority has been reached. An actual
union election is no longer required.
In 2009 the Legislative
Assembly passed more laws designed to aid the efforts of
organized labor. Two “gag rule” laws were adopted that
strictly limit how employers can communicate with their
employees regarding political matters. The ban includes any
discussion with employees regarding the support of political
or constituent groups. Since labor organizations are
constituent groups, the law effectively bans the employer
from discussing labor organization efforts with their
employees. However, the ban does not prevent union
representatives from discussing labor organization issues
with the company employees.
This law is obviously biased in
favor of organized labor and arguably violates the
constitutional right to free speech.
The current federal
administration is also advancing a political agenda designed
to greatly enhance the scope and power of organized labor in
the private sector. Although Congress recently refused to
adopt legislation authorizing “card check” unionization
similar to Oregon’s it has largely stood silent as the
administration has taken repeated political actions to shift
the balance of power to organized labor.
The President has stacked the
National Labor Relations Board by appointing pro-labor
advocates. That Board recently sued Boeing Corporation
alleging that the company’s plan to build a new factory in a
right to work state violated labor relations laws. If their
suit is successful, the organized labor controlled NLRB will
gain unprecedented control of U.S commerce.
The Securities and Exchange
Commission recently implemented rules, authorized under the
Dodd-Frank Act that greatly enhanced the ability of unions
to place their representatives on the corporate board of
directors. This was a concerted effort by organized labor to
take control and unduly influence corporate leadership.
Fortunately, the rule was struck down by the Washington D.C.
Court of Appeals calling the scheme “utterly mindless”.
The National Mediation Board
arbitrates labor disputes regarding airlines and railroads
where employees are not allowed to strike. The President
appointed the president of the pilots union and a former
president of the association of flight attendants union to
that board. The board recently changed the rules to provide
that employees who do not vote in a union election are no
longer counted as part of the overall workforce. This action
grossly reduces the number of votes needed to establish the
majority required to authorize a union election. It
effectively counts non-existent ballots as a pro-labor vote
History has clearly
demonstrated the need for a balance of power between
business and labor interests. It has also demonstrated that
the political process is a poor means of regulating that
balance. Commerce is too much at the mercy of the
composition of the political majority. In my opinion, the
failure to create new jobs, both at the state and national
level, is largely a function of the uncertainty caused by
government intrusion in the labor markets.